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Final Fantasy beater?
Bravery. The key word that describes Sega's release strategy for Resonance Of Fate. Here we have a relatively unknown IP, without prior franchise or marketing buzz, going head to head with the recent Square-Enix Final Fantasy release. Its admirable that Sega and veteran RPG developers Tri-Ace would try something so bold, but unfortunately their game isn't strong enough to warrant such brave moves.
Final Fantasy XIII is a muddled experience but the one thing that can be said for it is that it makes an attempt to shake up genre convention in order to appeal to a wider audience. Resonance Of Fate dials things back a bit, returning to the era of difficulty and grind that will appeal to some die hard fans but alienate most other gamers wanting something new from the RPG formula.
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Unfortunately, ROF suffers from the same narrative problems as Final Fantasy XIII, in that it chooses to drip feed the story to the player in such a plodding manner that many will lose interest way before anything interesting has actually happened.
Taking place in a ravaged, post apocalyptic world, ROF is set on Bazel, a giant air purifying tower. A bustling metropolis has formed around the tower, below are the slums in which our protagonists; Zephyr, Vashyron and Leeane, begin their journey. The trio are bounty hunters who are frequently sent out on dangerous missions to take down targets and occasionally recover rare, magical crystals for the aristocracy of Bazel.
Again similarities can be traced to Final Fantasy XIII. The presence of crystals as a main plot dynamic and the plot itself, which features a rag tag bunch of misfits venturing towards a place they are segregated from, are both highly reminiscent of Lightnings Cocoon based travels. Resonance of Fate has little to add to the familiar JRPG story formula, the story is often tedious and absent for large lengths of time due to some obtrusive grinding.
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Anyone ready to stand up to the might of Final Fantasy better have a damn fine graphics engine, and for the most part ROF is a looker. It's a shame that dull, repetitive battle arenas and bland townscapes let down an otherwise robust visual package.
'Steampunk' is the intended style of Resonance Of Fate's setting (it's on the retail box in case anyone needed reminding). However, ROF's version of Steampunk isn't as redolent of the style's central tenets as, say, Fallout 3. ROF merely offers RPG gamers a rare look at a dystopic environment, at odds with the usual garish vistas.
Elsewhere, character models are generic but impressively rendered, with some flashy cut scenes to break up the dull action.
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Remember in the late Final Fantasy games when one of the characters who used a gun would let fly an awesome, bullet puking limit break? Well, imagine an entire combat system built around that mechanic. Guns are the name of the game in ROF, lots of guns. While the action soon goes stale, the combat in ROF is undeniably exciting, for a few hours at least.
Like a cross between Final Fantasy and John Woo, ROF gun battles play out in balletic style. Action moves are hugely exhilarating, tasking the player with plotting a course through the enemy lines before letting rip with some devastating combos (smackdown is the most fun). Tri-actions see all three characters swarm on the enemy with a hail of flourishing gunfire. .
Then the grind sets in and the endless battles all start to blend into one, exposing the many weaknesses in the combat system. Dodgy AI can either be dumb as hell or crushingly difficult and the 'bezel' system is a pain, forcing the player to stop fighting and scramble round the arena for their lost energy bar.
The world map is also a laborious misstep, presenting the player with a hexagonal mosaic of blocked passages and out of reach goals. To move you need energy hexes, to get energy hexes you need to battle, battling is tedious and frustrating, get the point?
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This is undoubtedly an admirable effort from Sega and Tri-Ace, to present another RPG to a gaming world that may not have been sated by the bloated Final Fantasy XIII. It's also admirable that they manage squeeze something fresh out of the tired old JRPG template.
The tri-attack gun battle system is a breath of fresh air, watching characters perform acrobatic moves while brandishing pistols and machine guns is like a bizzare mix of Max Payne and the turn based role players of old. Unfortunately though the combat soon becomes stale thanks to an overwhelming amount of grind and some defects in the basic mechanics (the cover system doesn't really work). Bazel works great as a setting, with its many clockwork intricacies, but traversing its hexagonal pathways is pointless and frustrating, stifling what could have been a open world jaunt.
A great story can usually save a tedious RPG but with ROF the writers are really just going through the paces. Final Fnatasy XIII suffered from an over abundance of incoherent storyline, Resonance of Fate doesn't have enough. Good value comes from the voice acting, with the ubiquitous Nolan North proving once again he's the go to guy for gruff leading men. The game also features the option to play using the original Japanese soundtrack, something which is sorely missing from most JRPGs in the west.
It's perhaps trite to suggest that a new IP has so much to do with the recent release of FFXIII, but the similarities are glaringly obvious. Unfortunately for ROF, it fails to even come close to the quality and consistency of FFXIII, itself one of the weakest titles in the series.
'The RPG re-defined!' is proudly displayed on the box art for Resonance Of Fate, 'The RPG defined once again' would have perhaps been more apt.